Dissident Reviews #6: Vaporfornia by Robert Stark
Max Von Mueller is a young man on the ropes. He has an alcoholic for a father. A whore for a sister. An addiction to medication, and a tendency to squander his already vanishingly low chances of ever getting laid. Max is a loser. Or, in the parlance of our time, an incel.
Having finished high school, Max attends a community college where his daily humiliation continues. Men despise him. Women laugh at him. Even his parents are eager to remind him what a failure he is.
Only Lilly, a young “woman of color” pays any attention to Max. But things eventually go south with Lilly, too. It seems nothing will work for Max. Every time a girl is within his reach, disappointment is just around the corner.
In the background of this deep personal turmoil is a political race by which Max is fascinated. We see in these figures traces of Andrew Yang and Donald Trump, with ambitious aesthetic visions which characterise fascism and science fiction. This is true of the enigmatic Blackstone above all, a purveyor of “aesthetic chaos magic.”
Perhaps due to the mind-altering drugs he ingests on a daily basis, Blackstone comes to wield a sinister psychological power over Max. Max anguishes over his admiration of Blackstone’s aesthetic vision and the eugenic policies which are incompatible with Max’s Woke sensibilities. Blackstone even infects Max’s dreams, to the extent that we are unsure of what is real and what is imagined.
Once I’m elected I will shut this all down. Create a database using facial recognition to track incels, sexual predators, misogynists, racists, and fascists. Monitor all their online activity with a biometric ID, criminalize anonymous postings, pressure social media networks and financial services to de-platform them, and notify all their potential employers and the communities they live in.
After an early encounter with Blackstone, Max is introduced to disgraced Hollywood director Ari Meschel, whose new virtual reality venture is designed to appeal to the untapped and growing incel market, of which Max’s browser history reveals him to be a peerless archetype.
Meschel plans to make Max the star of a television show—the exploited loser par excellence—with the ironic twist that his stardom will bring Max the attention he has always coveted.
But even when his emancipation from inceldom seems within his grasp, Max is again subjected to the humiliation of becoming a “seat,” which I will leave to you to learn about for yourself.
There is a frankness throughout this book that is at times jarring but is also charming and often funny. There are also flashes of imaginative brilliance, including references to “psychedelic Hitler,” and a chapter entitled “Your dreams are copyrighted.”
I also appreciated Stark’s engagement with the world in which we live—albeit a hyperreal version of it—where so many seem desperate to write about dead places and dead people about whom they know nothing.
I enjoyed the synchronicities with other books I’ve been reading. There is the reference to "swimming at sunset" which took my mind to Nobel Red’s book (reviewed here). Tobias Sharpe of Matt Pegas’ Dragon Day (reviewed here) features in the story. And the Blackstone resort, a “self-contained city,” reminded me of the Dream City casino in my own book.
One impression I had while reading Vaporfornia was that the author was in a hurry to advance the plot. Scenes switch very rapidly, and details are not teased out through showing but offered in unsparing detail through telling.
These issues aside, Stark’s book is a rollercoaster ride through a bizarre and decadent world. It touches on the tensions between free market capitalism and conservatism. Between the haves and have nots in the domain of sexual affairs, the most ruthless marketplace of all.
Stark has a powerful imagination, and his passion for the kind of world he would like to live in and the problems with the one he does live in come clearly through the pages of the book. A country in which whole swathes of the population are dying under the weight of disappointed dreams. A world in which many are waiting for a messiah to deliver them from the decay evident all around them.
Vaporfornia is independently published and is available for purchase here.
About Dissident Reviews:
In this series, I plan to review—in a spirit of objectivity and constructive criticism—“dissident” works, by which I mean works establishment publishing houses would overlook for ideological reasons. My motivations for doing so are to:
discover works from outside the mainstream, which I consider politicised and uninteresting;
network with like-minded writers;
promote work I consider good and offer what I hope will be useful critiques for that I think could be better; and
promote my own work.
I am an Australian writer living in France. I am in the process of publishing a three-novel series—the first of which is available here—and have had non-fiction published in Quadrant and Quillette magazines and The Australian newspaper.
Authors are welcome to use quotes from these reviews (with attribution). If you would like me to review your book please get in touch via my Twitter page.